July 19, 2012

Success or Significance

First, a couple of questions to ask:

Is it better to reach a goal of leading a large organization?  Or is it better to influence just one person to change for the better?

Is it better to manipulate people to your cause for short term increase in numbers?  Or to uplift, empower, and help people find cause in themselves? 

Is it better to master the political game to win people’s hearts and gain public office?  Or is it better to be chosen by the people to lead because of the power you’ve given them?   

If you’ve been following my tweets, you probably know what this article is about.  It’s something I have strongly valued for a long time and the nearing political election has played a large role in getting it on my mind again.  It is the idea that significance is greater than success—that the culture of fighting for success as an end is destroying our potential for good.
So what’s the difference?  Dewitt Jones said that “the difference between success and significance is not being the best in the world, but rather the best for the world.”  We have created a culture where we will do just about anything for this idea of success.  It starts out as a noble pursuit.  It is good for people to want to achieve something.  But as soon as they do, they realize that it is not enough.   It is not as filling as they thought it would be.  The have to move on to the next thing, sacrificing more and more for selfish pursuits.   A lot of the trouble comes from the fact that people have learned that they can be successful even when they are doing things the easy way.  They can cheat and win and get away with it.  They can copy someone else that has seen success, completely omitting creativity.  A spiritual role-model of mine, Elder Jeffery R. Holland warned that “Surely fluttering somewhere over the highway to hell is the Chamber of Horrors banner reading ‘Welcome to the ethics of ease’.” 

Significance, on the other hand, is being successful in the cause of unselfishly serving the world.  Many of us have tried to offer this service and we can testify that it is no easy task.  Why is it so hard?  When you are focused on the quality of significance rather than the quantity of success, you are giving up yourself for a cause that is greater than your own.  And this cause requires everything of you.  Think about Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Viktor Frankl—they had to give up everything they had for their influence and significance, even their lives. 

So yes, to answer the questions above; quality influence on the few is greater than falsely leading the many, building loyalty and empowering is better than manipulating, Leading people and building leadership is better than politics.  Set your eyes on significance and let the real success follow.  Here’s a couple ideas to get you started:

Be Creative: You can mimic what others have done to be successful, but being significant requires that you do things your way.  Take the time to learn who you are before you decide what you do.  “[Vocation is] the place where your deep gladness meets the worlds deep need.” Frederick Buechners

Stop trying to find the easy way: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!  No substantial service has ever been performed by doing things the easy way.  Hard work will define you as someone that is willing to sacrifice for the betterment of those around you.

Fear no failure:  Fear of failure is the enemy of progression.  It will discourage you from trying new things.  Find some creative way to serve the world.  You will fail, but remember, failure is nothing more than a lesson learned.  Get back up and keep moving forward.

What else?